Mitchell Garcia, 16, of Commerce City, surfs on his board on The Wave at Hyland Hills Water World in Federal Heights, Colorado on June 30, 2015. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
You can’t miss Colorado’s mountains — they’re the compass that tells us which way is west and the tempting sirens that call us when fresh powder drops. But bodies of water in our fine state? Well, it’s a little tougher to scout out great splash pads and, if we’re being totally honest, the sand between our toes at reservoirs feels oddly crunchy. Still, if you know where to go, Colorado can give you a solid two-for-one, offering great recreation for those who want to play in H2O not just in its frozen form, but also its liquid state. These five places prove our land-locked state has it all.
Boogie board and surf at Water World
8801 Pecos St. Federal Heights, 303-427-7873, waterworldcolorado.com
If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Water World, we’ll get you caught up to speed: The ice cream cookie sandwiches are still humongous, and so are the waves that roll through Thunder Bay, the pool in the heart of the 70-acre water park. But the secondary wave pool that greets you near the entrance has been reimagined, sectioned off into a kid’s play area on one side and “Cowabunga Beach” on the other, where you’ll be handed a body board before launching from a platform into perfectly engineered waves. The timing of your launch is key because you’ll want to ride that boogie board all the way to shore, errr, land.
Once you’ve graduated from boogie boarding, try out “The Wave,” a surf simulator across from Thunder Bay. But beware: Surfers who seemingly got lost in Colorado (or maybe never retreated back to the ocean after ski season?) congregate here and will make it look easy-peasy. If you’re a novice, cue “Wipeout” … you might get thrashed around in the waves for a little bit before gaining solid footing.
Open swim at Chatfield State Park
11500 N. Roxborough Park Road, Littleton, 303-791-7275, cpw.state.co.us
Colorado Masters Swimming Association: comsa.org
Swimming at your gym’s pool can feel like bumper cars (with the added risk of an unsupervised kid cannonballing on top of you). You’re better off escaping the lap lanes this summer and logging a good swim workout in the outdoors.
The gravel pond at Chatfield State Park is a gem for outdoor swimming — even if the name doesn’t do a stellar job selling it. But the water glistens when the sun hits it just right and, when you pop your head up during your breaststroke sequences, you’ll get a panoramic glimpse of Waterton Canyon.
Consider joining the Chatfield Gravel Pond Swimmers, a workout group that’s organized by the Colorado Masters Swimming Association and U.S. Masters Swimming, but whose swims are run by a team or workout group. (Joining the group is a great way to train for the swim portion of an upcoming triathlon or simply just get that total body workout).
Not a competitive swimmer? You can still come to the gravel pond to paddleboard and even let your reservoir dog hop on the board, too. Just be sure to ask the rental pros for a dog-friendly board, because your pup’s nails can scratch the surface, and the companies would rather you take out older boards that are no longer in mint condition.
Kahlen Young, 7, left, runs Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, into one of the tepees her family rented for their camping trip at Flatiron Reservoir west of Loveland. (Jenny Sparks, Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Water ski at Carter Lake
• Flatiron Reservoir: co.larimer.co.us/parks/flatiron.cfm; tipi rental: co.larimer.co.us/naturalresources/tipis.htm
• Carter Lake: co.larimer.co.us/parks/carter.cfm. Carter Lake Marina: 4011 S. County Road 31, Loveland, carterlakemarina.com
• John Martin Reservoir: 30703 County Road 24, Hasty, cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/JohnMartinReservoir
First order of business: reserve a tepee to camp in at the nearby Flatiron Reservoir so you can turn this into a unique getaway.
You can’t swim in Flatiron Reservoir; it’s more of a base camp. The sunsets over the water are phenomenal, especially with melty s’mores in one hand and a good porter in the other.
But nearby Carter Lake has it all, with a 1,100-acre reservoir that’s great for swimming and water skiing. Plus, no need to BYOB (bring your own boat). A marina rents out pontoons ($360 a day) and fishing boats ($75 to $100 a day).
A runner-up for recreating in the water: John Martin Reservoir, an especially large reservoir that’s 17 miles east of Las Animas and never seems too crowded. You can boat and jetski on the reservoir.
Go tubing in Golden
Washington Avenue and 10th Street in Golden, cityofgolden.net
Just 20 or so minutes from downtown Denver and you’ve arrived at the gateway to the Rocky Mountains and are in a town that still has a Wild West vibe. Come summertime, this city has its tubing routine down pat, and you can take a wild ride through the lower stretch of Clear Creek.
What sets Clear Creek apart from other tubing destinations is the Whitewater Park that was constructed with boulders and features drops and pools, mini surf waves and fast eddies. It’s not a “lazy river,” so don’t show up with a gas station innertube. You’ll get flipped pretty quickly. Instead, you’ll want to make a $40 investment in a sturdy tube with an enclosed bottom. You can buy these tubes from a sporting-goods store or from Golden Goods (1201 Washington Ave., 303-216-2123, goldengoodsusa.com), where store employees know the drill and will pump up the tube for you. Or, you can rent a tube at Golden River Sports (806 Washington Ave., 303-215-9386, goldenriversports.net).
Peak tubing season happens June through September.
Go surfing in the burbs
2101 W. Oxford Ave., Sheridan
Surfing in the city? Crafty Coloradans have found a way to do so at the $15 million River Run Park along the South Platte in Sheridan. To build the suburban surf course, ramps were mounted at the bottom of the riverbed. Not having to wait in crowded surf lineups or paddle out to the waves is a big plus for eager types. Plus, the waves are always there.
If you want to give river surfing a whirl, you might want a wetsuit, and you’ll definitely need a helmet to protect your noggin’ from the rocks.
Kristen Fenton, left, and Angela Toney paddle around Evergreen Lake on May 30 during an employee training exercise for employees of the Denver Paddle Board Company. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)
Don’t forget about our stand up paddleboard guide with everything you need to know.